Posts tagged ‘Compassion’

Avoid Empathy Burnout through Compassion || Mary Coday Edwards

Avoid Empathy Burnout through Compassion

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

January 17, 2017

2017 brings a new year, a new start, and for many, new resolutions.

This blog on compassion completes my three-part series from the 2016 International Symposium for Contemplative Studies (ISCS; Note 1), hosted by the Mind & Life Institute (Note 2) which I attended in November.

The two previous blogs focused on staying true to yourself but yet extending loving kindness and practicing genuine concern for another’s wellbeing.

COMPASSION VS. EMPATHY – AND A HOWLING CHAIN SAW

In keeping with Mind & Life’s mission to integrate science with contemplative practices, Geshe Thupten JInpa of McGill University spoke on “Understanding the Psychology Behind Compassion Meditation.”

Compassion is a natural sense of concern that arises within us when confronted with another’s suffering and then feel motivated to see that suffering relieved.

It’s comprised of three parts: first there’s the understanding that someone IS suffering; second, we feel an emotional connection; and third, we are motivated to see the suffering relieved. And this third piece of “doing” includes the prayerful act of practicing lovingkindness toward another, of wishing the other well by connecting spiritually to our common humanity.

A significant difference between empathy and compassion is that third bit:  empathy takes us to the place where we enter emotionally into someone else’s suffering; we focus on the problem and the experience of it. If we stay in this emotional swirl, we can easily shift into “empathy burnout”.

We manifest compassion, however, when motivated to relieve that suffering; it takes on an ethical quality – a way of being.

A solution to the personal distress of empathy burnout is to shift empathy to compassion. Empathy can take a form of “feeling for” vs. the “feeling with” of compassion. 

For example, I suffered when I heard chain saws whining away in the forests in the dead of night in the poverty-ridden countries in which I’ve ived. Instead of cutting myself off from the excruciating emotional pain of an ecosystem killed and stolen, I can train my mind to move beyond my emotions to a more empowered state of “what can I do to halt illegal logging?”

And perhaps to consider the pain of poverty driving the howling chain saw.

IT CAN BE ENOUGH: THE INTENTION TO BE OPEN TO THE FIELD OF LOVE

And if because of our own pain and hurt, we cannot move into compassion, the INTENT can be enough.

Associate Professor at Claremont School of Theology Andrew Dreitcer spoke on “Practicing the Presence of Compassion: Contemplative Christian Traditions.”

Using a thousand-year-old Christian early morning practice, he led us in a process of INTENTION to be open;  i.e., when we are not capable of compassion, but we truly desire to be available to the presence of love, for ourselves and others.

First centering ourselves, he asked us to seek within us for just one word that could focus us on the intention to be open.

That word – our mantra – was then the focus of our meditation for the next 20 minutes, the idea being that then throughout the day when anger or fury arose and compassion for our fellow human beings was nowhere to be found, we could return to this word with the intent to extend compassion.

I find this process very hopeful – and helpful. Instead of throwing myself on the rocks for my lack of compassion, I can at least stay in this space of intent, knowing it is an ancient monastic tradition where it just might lead me into a “connection with an eternal, loving presence,” as Andrew called it. 

All of this is to say we CAN train in compassion. We train in order to RELEARN to relate to ourselves, others, and the world around us from a place of understanding and compassion rather than from excessive judgment.

It doesn’t happen overnight. But by me even saying I have an iota of intent, I can learn to catch myself, and perhaps begin to move into a wider place of genuine compassion – living in peace not just with others but also with myself.

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Notes & Sources:

1.) ISCS “brings together scientists, scholars, artists and contemplatives to explore distinct though overlapping fields of research and scholarship, using a multidisciplinary, integrative approach to advance our understanding of the human mind.” This symposium hosted about 1,200 attendees.

2.) The mission of the Mind & Life Institute is to alleviate suffering and promote flourishing by integrating science with contemplative practice and wisdom traditions. https://www.mindandlife.org/mission

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About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

 

Here is a list of the other blog Mary has written for People House:

Post-Election: Be Kind-but it DOESN’T mean be nice! || Mary Coday Edwards

Post-election: Be kind – but it DOESN’T mean be nice!

By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

December 13, 2016

And Santa JUST shifted me to the “naughty” side, if I wasn’t there already.

An old word, “nice” appeared in English in the 13th century. It’s derived from a French word that meant “foolish”, which in turn came from the Latin nescire, meaning “Ignorant”.  By the 17th century it had evolved to signify “timid,” “fussy,” and “precise” – a far cry from our current usage meaning kind, or polite.

Of the word, Dictionary.com says “the word is used too often and has become a cliché lacking the qualities of precision and intensity that are embodied in many of its synonyms.”

As noted in my November blog on loving kindness, on the heels of our election I attended the 2016 International Symposium for Contemplative Studies (ISCS; Note 1), hosted by the Mind & Life Institute (Note 2).

Amishi Jha, Associate Professor at the University of Miami, closed our Saturday evening session saying, “Be kind – but that doesn’t mean be nice!”

The Director of Contemplative Neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative, her words were intended to aid us attendees in finding our way through a new political order.

BE KIND: FOCUSING ON THE OTHER, FOR THEIR GOOD

Spiritual teachers and psychotherapists often associate “nice” with being a people-pleaser, with the need to look outside oneself for certain emotional needs to be met. In other words, if I’m nice to you, you’ll validate me in ways I’m not getting from myself. You’ll make me feel important, valuable, or worthy of love. And to get what I want from you, I will even contradict my convictions.

Being kind, on the other hand, entails a deliberate doing good to others, choosing consciously. And evolves into loving kindness – again, see my November blog. Returning to its 13th century roots, nice implies acting unconsciously – I am ignorant of my motives and perhaps foolishly waiting for someone’s approval, or to get something from him/her.

Which is spot on to our seasonal usage of “nice”: If I punch Susie, Santa will leave me a lump of coal – I won’t get the cool stuff. I don’t really care about Susie’s wellbeing, but I DO care about what’s under the tree.

Defined in this manner, niceness comes with strings attached: I will please you and make you happy in order to get something out of it.

POST-ELECTION

For me, training in loving kindness enables me to move beyond the superficialities that divide our species. Mentally, when I now engage either in person or through social media with those whose values frankly leave me stunned, I visualize that deeper spiritual commonality.

For me, that visualization is of a changing form of no specific shape, an intense sky blue color with sparkles of light, in a background of midnight blue.  There I can be kind without being nice; I can extend loving kindness to them without contradicting my own values. They are fighting battles I know nothing about in that deeper place.

By the end of our interaction, they may want nothing more to do with me – they may be unfriending me! And that’s OK. My intent is to be kind to myself also in this interaction, by speaking my truth, by showing up as me.

So, be kind – but mindfully, paying attention to your motives, but without judgment.

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Notes & Sources:

1.) ISCS “brings together scientists, scholars, artists and contemplatives to explore distinct though overlapping fields of research and scholarship, using a multidisciplinary, integrative approach to advance our understanding of the human mind.” This symposium hosted about 1,200 attendees.

2.) The mission of the Mind & Life Institute is to alleviate suffering and promote flourishing by integrating science with contemplative practice and wisdom traditions. https://www.mindandlife.org/mission

3.) Sources include Marcia Sirota, at http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/marcia-sirota/being-too-nice_b_9592698.html

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About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation

Here is a list of the other blog Mary has written for People House:

Drawing Strength from the Goddess Archetype: Part 2 of 2 – Monica Myers

Feminine power isn’t something we go out and acquire; it’s already within us. Its something we become willing to experience. Something to admit we have. –Marianne Williamson

 

I remember encountering for the first time images of the Goddess when I was an undergraduate student taking an anthropology class. I was shocked to learn that goddess mythology predated Christianity by thousands and thousands of years. I had never heard of a goddess cosmology until then. In fact, the Great Goddess, before she was split into many different forms, is one of the most ancient symbols historians and archeologists have discovered, dating as far back as 30,000 B.C. when the first sculptures of bone, ivory or stone appeared. For me, she is the ultimate proof that an older grace and wisdom exists and is available to us today. Her image holds a key to the healing of our fractured souls.

 When you think of the feminine, what first comes to mind? Physical beauty? Nurturing? Submissiveness? Weakness? Feelings? Birthing? Sugar, spice, and everything nice?

The feminine archetype is especially misunderstood in our era, today.  Marion Woodman notes that “noisy literalism” now characterizes the struggle between the “ready-made masculine” and the “ready-made feminine.” A more authentic understanding of the concepts of “masculine” and “feminine” does not actually associate them with biological gender. In fact, a young woman may not be entirely at home with the feminine, just as a man may be intimidated by his own masculine energy.

 Similarly, a return to the Goddess is not about destroying the patriarchal ego, rather it’s about embracing the tension of opposites in a healthy, conscious and balanced way. 

As Woodman states, “The feminine is the instrument of recognition of the masculine, as the masculine is the instrument of recognition of the feminine.  The one is present in the other as the instrument of consciousness itself.” Carl Jung, too, believed that individual wholeness was dependent on balancing each within us.

In addition to embodying hope for a harmonious global existence, the Goddess has taught me many things about how to live my life. Briefly, I mention them here.

  •  Body as a source of the numinous. The Goddess has taught me to honor my body as sacred. According to the Great Goddess, the spiritual and the physical are two aspects of the same reality. The Goddess is embodied in every living thing; spirit is immediate and actual, not something earned later. Our bodies are a living source of the divine feminine, so connection to our bodies, equates to connection with the divine. This contrasts our cultural norm and practice of living primarily in our heads; of attempting to transcend our bodily existence.

 

  • Respect and honor for nature. The Goddess’s own body is the universe. Her image represents nature and the interdependence of the natural world. Humans, animals and plants are all seen as connected through the process of seasonal awakening, growing, fattening, and dying; the life force, growing powers and the death instinct are recognized as dwelling in all living things; therefore all of nature is sacred. Accordingly, as humans, our very existence is tied to the health and existence of other species and the planet as a whole.

 

  • Life on earth is constant transformation. Among her lessons is that the essence and beauty of life is a cosmic dance of perpetual and rhythmic change between creation and destruction, birth and death; there is no new life without death, both literally and metaphorically. If we want to change and grow emotionally and spiritually, we must let go of something, something within us must die.

 

  • Being okay with the unknown/resting in mystery. The true feminine knows life is cyclical and full of mystery and the unknown, and that security is achieved, not in materialism, but in spiritualism. In my experience, accepting this reality lessens anxiety about the future and cultivates a greater sense of presence, faith, trust and vitality. After all, all things are born of the dark.

This is challenging to write because I can hardly do justice to the fullness and richness, the rigor and dimension of the divine feminine in one short blog.  Above all, the Goddess inspires me to align my life with my heart. When we fail to listen to our heart and soul’s yearning, we are sleepwalking through life.  I don’t want to be a walking dead.  From a metaphorical standpoint, it’s curious that our culture has a current fascination with them.

We live in interesting times. Well-known and respected mythologist Joseph Campbell stated, “we are the ‘ancestors’ of an age to come, the unwitting generators of its supporting myths, the mythic models that will inspire its lives. In a very real sense, therefore, this is a moment of creation.”

There are no models for anything that is going on today. The old models are not working, and the new have not yet appeared. This is our present challenge: it is up to us to shape the new into existence.

In this moment of creation, can we really afford to be bound by myths about the feminine that keep us small, unbalanced, and fractured?

 

Monica Myers, MPH, MA, LPCC is a teacher and therapist currently accepting new clients. She has offices in Boulder, Denver and Golden. She invites your comments, questions and responses.

 

Find out more about Monica and her practice online at the Boulder Art Therapy Collective.

 

Contact Monica:
monimyers69@gmail.com
720-378-6603.  

 

Growing Pains: Mercy – Lydia Taft

Many years ago I was a Sunday school teacher for seven-year-old children.  I was responsible for preparing them for baptism when they turned eight.  One of the lessons I taught required me to line up chairs around the room in a maze.  I was to walk the children blindfolded through the maze and to a picture of Christ.  As I blindfolded one of the students she looked at me with hesitation and begged, “Please be careful with me Sister Taft.” 

My heart was touched by her simple statement and a truth was revealed to me…

That is my prayer always, every day of my life. 

Please be careful with me Spirit.  Please be careful with me.  I don’t know what road I’m traveling and I’m uncertain about the obstacles laid out before me, but I will allow you to guide me on my journey.  Just please be careful with me.  Have mercy on me in my fear and ignorance.

That day I realized how much fear I carried in my heart about what the future held.  I had based my opinions on many past experiences that I had suffered.  I understood that my life was in my hands. I had the free will to make decisions.  And that was the problem.  I was sitting in judgment about how well I messed up my life.  I was sitting in judgment about what my life looked like.  And I was sitting in judgment about all the pain I had recently experienced, which I hoped to never face again.  I held tightly to the fearful thought that I would continue down the same dark path.  So I asked for mercy from a greater being than myself, hoping I might avoid more pain.

I understand that prayer a bit differently now. 

I have learned that I didn’t need to ask Spirit for mercy.  I was already viewed from a loving perspective.  Love is only ever capable of love.  I really only needed to ask myself for mercy. I needed to find compassion in my own heart for me. I needed to release the judgments that weighed me down.  Yes, I had experienced some painful things, but what I didn’t realize at the time was how much clarity I had also received about the type of future I desired.  In the knowing of what I didn’t want, I more fully understood what I did want. My fear stemmed from my lack of understanding that I was being propelled toward something greater.  I am pleased to realize that I got here despite myself. 

Looking back on that past prayer I see that, like me, it has transformed and grown in clarity. 

My joy and my pain remain in my hands. 

It’s only ever my focus that must be directed, and sometimes redirected.  Today I can acknowledge the love that is always flowing to me, my ability to be receptive to that love, and the truth that is me.  Today my prayer would more accurately say:

I promise I will be careful and kind with me.  I am valuable.  The roads that I choose to travel on will honor my inner being.  I will seek experiences that feel joyful and fulfilling to me.  I will not worry myself about avoiding things that are painful.  When I find myself feeling that I have gone off course, I will seek clarity about the experiences I would prefer.  I will guide myself on this journey with love and compassion. I will walk in trust, acknowledging that all experiences I have enhance and broaden my perspective.  I will seek and find clarity in all areas of my life.  And most of all, I will be merciful with me.

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth